Pat Iacometti, A Practitioner of the Ancient Art of Keno

The Reno Gazette-Journal published the obituary of Patrick Iacometti recently.  The obituary was brief, 120 words.  It summed up Pat’s keno career in 34 words: “Pat began a career spanning two decades at the Club Cal-Neva in the early 1960’s. As the Keno manager, he was responsible for the invention of several Keno games including the Parley, and Quatrino.”  It is too short to tell much of the man or his career; for the most part he was a very private man and did not leave a trail of press clippings to document his work.

Pat Iacometti was a complex man. He was both an American and an Italian, the two nationalities wrapped up together in a large boisterous body topped with an exceptional brain. He was born in Nevada, on a ranch near Reno.  Although he was born here, Pat spent his formative years in Italy.  His Italian immigrant family returned to Italy when Pat was a child and did not return to Reno until the mid-1940’s when he was a teenager.  Still, Pat was proud to be an American; he served in the American army and spent his entire adulthood in the United States.  But he was also proud to be Italian; he spoke with a pronounced Italian accent and had decidedly Italian sensibilities.   Pat’s heritage significantly influenced his life here.  People thought he was an immigrant and often treated him as one.  It was a handicap, but it also drove him to succeed.

Sometime in the 1950’s Pat got his first keno job writing tickets at the Palace Club in Reno.  The keno game in those days bore no resemblance to the game you might see in a casino in Nevada today.  It was a game of art and mathematics, a cerebral endeavor for both the keno writer and the gambler.  A keno ticket was written with Chinese ink and brush. The pays were based on an ancient Chinese lottery.  Keno was a career then, its practitioners were highly skilled, respected and secretive.  It was a closed society and only the most trusted were allowed to enter.  Pat, with his Italian accent and foreign ways, was not one of the trusted few.  So while Pat had a job writing keno, no one would teach him the math behind the game.  The formulas were necessary to compute the pays and to construct more elaborate keno tickets.   A complicated keno ticket might have hundreds of different combinations; without knowing the math Pat could not succeed at keno.  Whenever he asked a question he was stone walled; the other writers would tell him how much to pay a customer, but not why. It was frustrating and it made him angry; an anger that was still apparent in his voice twenty years later when he told me the story.

Pat was a very stubborn man and determined to learn the game and defy the prejudice he faced.  He spent $300 to go San Francisco and learn the secrets he was denied in Reno.  He went to Jesuit monks and studied the necessary mathematics.  When he came back to Reno, he knew the secrets and he understood them better than all of his contemporaries.  In time he was recognized for his abilities and promoted to a supervisory position at the Palace Club.   When he moved to the Club Cal Neva, Pat found a home.  The prejudice over his accent and ways never went away completely, but it was better for him at the Cal Neva.

Together Pat and his employers were a great combination.  They provided an opportunity for his creativity to flourish and Pat gave them a keno game that was unlike any other in Nevada.  He was a natural inventor, constantly finding new ways to do things, at home and at work.  At the Cal Nevada he created new ways to play keno and make the most exotic wagers imaginable.  No other person ever equaled Pat’s accomplishments in keno.  Pat retired a long time ago and he retired at the right time.  By the time he left it had become a mere shadow of the game that inspired Pat to study mathematics.  It was no longer a game of art or mathematics. It was not a secret society and it had no practitioners, only employees.  The mathematics that intrigued Pat got programmed into computer terminals and became a complete mystery to employees who punched the computer’s buttons.  It is not the game Pat loved.  He left keno and the Club Cal Neva for something he could still love, his wife and his very private life.  Pat Iacometti was a unique man; I was lucky to have worked with him and to have him attempt to teach me keno.   Pat Iacometti died on May 29th at 87 years old.



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